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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘A Girl of the Limberlost’ in Baileys Harbor is full of stories

Critic At Large

Rogue Theater

Finding wonder in a scene from Rogue Theater’s production of “A Girl of the Limberlost” are characters played by, from left, Pamela Johnson, Timothy Wesley-Bee and Mary Caroline Wilkerson. (Troupe photo)

Updated, with a message at the end.

BAILEYS HARBOR, Wis. (WFRV)

“A Girl of the Limberlost” by Marie Kohler presented by Rogue Theater in Baileys Harbor Town Hall auditorium… Each of those elements has a story. Where to start?

“Limberlost” being a ?????? to most, that’s a good starting point.

+ The name is short for Limberlost Swamp, once located in eastern Indiana. The Limberlost exists in the play but not today. According to the Internet, agricultural development overtook its rich wetlands biodiversity early in the 20th century. Parts of the area are being restored as a nature preserve.

+ Marie Kohler is a Wisconsin writer who adapted her play based on a 1909 novel by Gene Stratton-Porter. Kohler’s most recent play, the high-level “The Dig,” just finished a professional run at Third Avenue Playhouse in Sturgeon Bay. Kohler’s “A Girl of the Limberlost” is from 1992. Characters in it are adults and youth.

+ Rogue Theater is a community theater fueled by husband and wife Stuart Champeau and Lola DeVillers. The play’s the thing is most important; the place is secondary. That’s one way of saying Rogue Theater has been on the move. Sometimes, Rogue Theater puts on rarities, like “A Girl of the Limberlost.”

+ Baileys Harbor Town Hall auditorium is mostly used for functions other than theater. For this production, the setup is make-do/makeshift. The audience has to make broad allowances for scene lighting and players’ arrivals and departures from behind screens on either side of the seating area.

The situation for Rogue Theater and this play’s players is kind of like Lewis and Clark setting off on their journey – so hard but so rewarding.

Marie Kohler’s play is loaded with points of fascination.

+ + It is a mother-daughter story. The mother, Kate (Pamela Johnson), is widowed. The loss of her beloved husband by an accident 13 years previous has left Kate so embittered that life to her has become something to suffer. Her daughter, Elnora (Mary Caroline Wilkerson), takes the full brunt. The answer to any of Elnora’s needs is always a sharp “No.” No to new clothing for school, no to money to buy required books, no to a chance for Elnora to study in science, in which she is so impassioned and gifted.

+ + It is a time capsule. By drawing from source material – that 1909 novel – Marie Kohler creates a sense of harsh challenges people faced. Kate’s loss of her husband means she had to go it alone and subsist on a farm while raising a child. The story includes a boy, Billy (Timothy Wesley-Bee), who is ragtag and worse: Abandoned. Only by kindness does Billy survive. The kindness comes from Elnora’s uncle, Wesley (Kent Moraga), and his wife, Maggie (LeAnn Johnson), who in their childless marriage find a blessing in Billy.

+ + It is an appreciation of the environment. In the story, the Limberlost Swamp existed. Elnora loved it and found wonder in its butterflies, moths and other creatures. So does Bird Woman (Carol Jensen-Olson), who is – wonder of wonders for the time, a university scientist who speaks of bees, et al, by their Latin names. Sounds of the swamp – the frogs, water gurgles, etc. – are created in the production by the young support ensemble, who also play Elnora’s mean high school classmates in and early scene and a kind of Greek chorus along the way. One of the interesting things about “A Girl of the Limberlost” is its environment went away. The value of a swamp was dismissed. The play captures a sense of how that was a mistake – how the passions of Elnora and Bird Woman were true and correct. Subtly, the play tells why the environment is important – and that may be a motivating factor in why this production exists and the players are performing in it.

The story in “A Girl of the Limberlost” evolves toward the importance of Elnora’s father before returning to the swamp.

Performances have an endearing quality, the adults having a caring aura and the youth confident, notably Wilkerson and Wesley-Bee.

The intensity level peaks when Wilkerson and Johnson have at it as daughter and mother at total odds. Warmth envelops scenes with Uncle Wesley.

A repeated phrase adapted from the Bible haunts. It goes something like this: “Now under the name of all things good and beautiful, protect me, hide me under the shadows of thy wings.”

The meanings are wide, as much in the play.

***

Creative: Playwright – Marie Kohler, adapting 1909 novel by Gene Stratton-Porter; directors – Stuart Champeau, Lola DeVillers; set designer – Lola DeVillers; stage manager – Isabel Vreeke; sound effects – Ensemble; violinist – Kayleigh Erickson

Cast:

Elnora Comstock – Mary Caroline Wilkerson

Kate Comstock – Pamela Johnson

Wesley Sinton – Kent Moraga

Maggie Sinton – LeAnn Johnson

Principal – Kekoa Bicoy

Bird Woman – Carol Jensen-Olson

Billy – Timothy Wesley-Bee

Robin – Kalei Klaubauf

Girl – Isabel Vreeke

Boy – Kekoa Bicoy

Student – Laney Delwiche

Student – Kiarra Rux

Pale Man – Kekoa Bicoy

Running time: One hour, 50 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. July 25, 26, 27

Info: (920) 818-0816

***

NEXT: “The Odd Couple” (female version) by Neil Simon, Aug. 22-25, 29-Sept. 1.

VENUE: Baileys Harbor Town Hall auditorium is located in the Baileys Harbor Town Hall-McArdle Library building, 2392 County F, Baileys Harbor. Built in the 1930s, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places. The multipurpose auditorium includes a stage on its south side. The proscenium stage is raised three feet above the main floor, which is of light hardwood akin to wood found on a bowling alley. The stage is approximately 20 by 10 feet. Yellow/gold stage curtains fringe the performance space, with dark laminate wood serving as the stage’s lower facing. At the rear of the stage in each corner are two dark brown doors that appear to be of the building’s vintage. On the ceiling is a roll-up screen for film/slide presentations, with its cord hanging over the stage. For “A Girl of the Limberlost,” seating is on folding or straight-back movable chairs.

++++

In a follow-up to the review, this email:

Hello,

Read your commentary. So happy to see “A Girl of the Limberlost” performed. 

But Limberlost Lives! It is on T-shirts at Limberlost in Geneva Indiana. Friends of the Limberlost and the Indiana Dept of Natural Resources-Nature Preserves have restored 1800 acres of wetlands around Geneva. “A Girl of the Limberlost” school house ruins is here, where “Freckles” lived and the Limberlost Cabin a 1400 sq foot Queen Anne Style home to the Bird Woman was Gene Stratton-Porter’s home. One of Gene’s books, “Music of the Wild” is now a preserve and you can walk, Part II, the Fields (when water levels are not flooding the trails). Restoring parts of the old swamp is an on-going project. 

See Friends of the Limberlost facebook page and the limberlost.weebly.com website. 

Sincerely,

Terri Gorney, Vice President

Friends of the Limberlost

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